What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – August 2017

And it is this aspect of intimacy that has always confused me the most, that desire to find someone who is our duplicate, as though that will make us less lonely. (Jeremy Leven, from Creator)

Hadrian’s Wall #1-8 by Kyle Higgins (storier), Alec Siegel (storier), Rod Reis (artist), Eduardo Ferigato (artist), Troy Peteri (letterer), Rich Bloom (designer), and Matt Edelson (editor). $31.92, 166 pgs, FC, Image.

Kyle Higgins is a good-but-not-great writer, which means he often writes comics that are compelling and interesting, but they never quite rise to greatness. So it is with Hadrian’s Wall, which is really good for most of the run but falters at the end. It’s too bad, because Higgins really does a nice job getting to that point, but he just can’t get it to the finish line. Such is life.

Hadrian’s Wall reminds me most of Outland, the terrific and underrated sci-fi detective story from 1981 that starred Sean Connery (yes, I know I’m writing for a bunch of nerds and you all probably know what Outland is, but I figured I’d better go over it quickly anyway). I’m not the only one, either – some people in the letters column make this point, as well. It’s a cop stuck in an enclosed environment in space trying to solve a murder, so it’s not too big a leap, but Higgins gets the aesthetic right, too, as the spaceship is shabby and beat-up, making Simon Moore’s task feel more difficult, even though he has tech to help him. The book takes place in a 2085 that saw a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in 1985, destroying New York and Moscow, but which spurred the two sides to conquer space together. Higgins and Reis even give us “updated” technology that still feels like it’s from the Eighties (they still have dot matrix printers, it seems), which is a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. So the book feels right – a drug-addicted investigator (Simon takes pain pills) on a spaceship where no one wants him, getting involved with the murder of the man his ex-wife married and who once shot him four times (hence the pain pills). Yeah, this time it’s personal!

Higgins does a good job with the murder, which occurs when the victim’s face shield cracks while he’s on a space walk (as you can see on the cover to issue #1). Simon, naturally, is reluctant to get involved, but his old friend, who works for the corporation that owns the ship, offers him $100,000 for the job, and he needs the money thanks to a failed career as a police officer due to some (baseless) accusations about his work. Higgins sends him off across the galaxy (ignoring how long it might take and the time displacement – he and his employer just show up at the spaceship!), we meet all the principals, and Moore finds everyone stonewalling him. Of course they are! But Higgins builds the tension nicely, as someone dumps Simon’s pain pills down the drain, so he’s less and less effective as time goes on, and everyone has secrets they don’t want him to know, whether they’re about the murder or not. Higgins takes a major turn in issue 4/5, as a group of … let’s call them “other people” come on board, people who are very invested in finding out who the murderer is. The machinations lead inexorably toward a fairly predictable ending, which is where the book kind of breaks down. Any time someone has to use the phrase “deus ex machina,” things aren’t resolved too well, but that’s what we get here. Higgins barely makes an effort to tie it back to the main plot – it’s explained in a throwaway line that seems like it could be the basis of a whole ‘nother mini-series.

The problem is that Higgins is too ambitious, which is fine for the most part, but he doesn’t have enough room for it. This could have easily been 10-12 issues, and it would have been better developed. Earth has colonized other planets, and one of them, Theta, is angling for independence. This becomes an important factor in the murder, but Higgins doesn’t really get into the whole movement enough, so that aspect of the book is kind of dull. The murder isn’t a MacGuffin at all, but Higgins almost treats it like one, because he can’t decide what kind of book he wants this to be. He implies that it’s a romance, because Simon and Annabelle were once married, but in the flashbacks of them together, we don’t get a good sense of their relationship, and in the present, they don’t really like each other and it’s clear they’re probably not going to anytime soon. The onboard investigation is handled pretty well, but once issue #5 changes the course of the book, what happens doesn’t have enough emotional force behind it to make it feel worth it. The tension between Simon and Annabelle, similarly, isn’t as powerful as it could be, because we don’t really know much about them together. If Higgins had been able to do one or two (or four) more issues, he might have made all the threads of the book stronger.

Of course, maybe he couldn’t because of sales or because Reis couldn’t keep up. The book took a slight hiatus in the middle of the run (the first three issues came out last year, so it shouldn’t have ended in August!), and Ferigato had to step in and assist Reis with the art on issues #6-8. Reis is a pretty good artist, however, and the art on the book is very good (I don’t know what Ferigato’s art “usually” looks like, but he does a fine job aping Reis, so the overall look remains consistent). He has kind of Sienkiewicz vibe going on (after Sienkiewicz stopped copying Adams but before he went fully surreal), and it gives the weirder aspects of the book (Simon hallucinates as his pain meds run out) a creepy, twisted look, which is nice. His scratchy line work and spectral coloring give the spaceship a haunted look, too, so even though anything really bizarre is a product of Simon’s imagination, it’s still a weird scene. He also uses bright colors well – there’s a haunting fire on one full-page spread that pops really well because the brightness is so unusual. Reis isn’t great at fluid motion, but he’s not called upon to draw that too much, and a few of the “action” scenes take place while people are wearing space suits, so their clunkiness is expected. Reis is a very good atmospheric artist, and the book demands that, so it looks quite cool. The fact that he couldn’t finish it completely isn’t too off-putting, but it would have been nice to see him draw the entire thing.

I’m bummed that Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t finish better, because for the first seven issues, it’s a gripping mystery with several elements that make it bigger than just what’s happening on the spaceship, even though Higgins manages to keep it human-scaled. It’s too bad the ending doesn’t quite measure up to the rest, but for most of it, it’s a compelling comic. Image has solicited a trade of the complete story, which is coming out in late September, if you’re interested. It’s mostly good. Is that good enough?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Apama the Undiscovered Animal volumes 1 and 2 by Ted Sikora (writer/colorist/letterer), Milo Miller (writer), and Benito Gallego (artist). $19.99 each, 130 pgs and 134 pgs, respectively, FC, Hero Tomorrow Comics.

Superhero readers are in a bit of a pickle these days, and it’s reflected in the slow attrition of sales. Comics are doing fine, contrary to Jim Lee’s opinion, and even the Big Two are doing fairly well, but there’s no denying that there’s some ennui around superhero books. Comic book readers generally like superheroes (heck, I love superheroes), and they yearn for “good” superhero books – i.e., superheroes like when they were twelve years old.* This poses a problem, though, because they also feel like the superheroes of their youth aren’t “theirs” anymore. I get it – I’ve dropped almost everything from DC and Marvel, mostly because of prices, but also because they just don’t excite me anymore. Superhero readers, by and large, are a conservative lot, though, so they want to read the characters they grew up with, even if they bitch about the “direction” of said character. I get the impulse – Batman and Spider-Man are two of my Top Ten favorite characters – but I don’t want to buy comics that I know I won’t like, even if they star characters I love. Comics readers, like a lot of fans, love to complain, so I guess they’re happy reading comics they don’t like? If they want to find comics that scratch the itch they have, they often need to look outside the Big Two, but that gets back to their conservatism – they’re afeared of characters they didn’t grow up with, and they don’t want to take a chance. I’ve been saying for years that Jay Faerber is one of the best superhero writers of the 21st century, but he publishes his excellent work – Noble Causes, Dynamo 5, Secret Identities, and others – through Image. “Good” – meaning “comics like the ones I grew up with” – comics are out there, but readers have to be willing to find them.

* People occasionally get really offended when you bring this up to them. Two guys at my comic book store, both in their forties, insist that their critical faculties were fully developed by the time they were 10 or so and could distinguish “good” pop culture from “crap” pop culture. They sound hilariously like grumpy old men, but you just can’t talk to them rationally about it. C’est la vie!

Which brings us to the two volumes of Apama, the second of which was just solicited recently while the first of which has been out for a while. A Mr. Travis Pelkie mentioned this when we saw it in Previews, and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t get volume 1. But I got both volumes, so I got to read 11 issues of pure, unfiltered, superhero craziness. The creators deliberately set out to make a comic that felt like it came out from Marvel in the late 1970s. Even before you read the people saying so, you notice that Benito Gallego is drawing a lot like John Buscema in this comic. The issues average 24 pages, and while length doesn’t guarantee quality, you can do a LOT more in those few extra pages. There are word balloons and omniscient narration in this comic, and lots of both. Again, taking a long time to read a comic doesn’t guarantee quality, but you do feel like you get good value for your dollar with these comics, as Sikora and Miller give us a lot to chew on – they check in on ancillary characters a lot, give us slow-burning plots with villains that won’t show up as the main threat for a while, and show our “hero” – Ilyia Zjarsky – doing regular stuff like bowling or, you know, his job (driving an ice cream truck – Ilyia is kind of a loser). It’s very old-school in the best way, but it’s self-published, the issues came out digitally, and no one knows about it, so it sells a teeny-tiny fraction of what you most mediocre Avengers comic sells. And the cycle continues!

Sikora and Miller set their book in Cleveland, and they note that even though Gallego lives in Spain, they sent him so many reference photos that they’re amazed that the city is so real in the comic. I’ll take their word for it – I’ve never been to Cleveland – but more than that, there’s a very good sense of place in the book, as Ilyia spends his time in real-feeling places (I have no idea how much of what we see is actually there; I imagine they used buildings in the city but changed names). Ilyia, who drives his ice cream truck, gets egged by neighborhood kids a lot, and has no game to make a move on the cute waitress who works in the coffee shop underneath his apartment, happens across a cave while hiking one day. He dreams of an animal called “Apama” that is the most powerful in existence but wants to be left alone, and he also discovers ancient Indian texts that seem to give him a way to tap into the power of the animal. So he does it (why not – he’s a loser!) and, because this is a comic book, he magically gains powers. Sikora and Miller don’t waste time – Ilyia becomes Apama on page 19 of issue #1, and he immediately goes out and decides to be a superhero. We get a bunch of weird villains, including an octopus monster from the moon, but Sikora and Miller do some clever things – Apama doesn’t really have many clear-cut victories. He defeats the octopus monster from the moon, because they can’t have something like that running around, but he only temporarily thwarts the dude whose touch can rust anything (which is kind of clever piece of social commentary for a comic set in Cleveland) or the weird priestess who lives in the woods. In the final story, he stops the bad guys, but they had been hypnotized into committing bad acts, and nobody even knows who hypnotized them or why (we see her, but we don’t know who she is). The trick is, of course, to make Apama a hero while still allowing him to fail, and Sikora and Miller do a nice job with that, because Ilyia is often plagued by self-doubt, so he doesn’t just put on his costume and go out fighting. Like a certain webhead, he agonizes over his superheroing, and it’s as compelling as when Peter Parker does it, and possibly even more so, because we know Peter is going to put on his costume lickety-split once trouble arises, but we don’t know that about Ilyia, and Sikora and Miller do give us a few times where he has to remain in his “civilian” clothes (and a few times where he has to come up with excuses about where he was when Apama was around – the superhero tropes are occasionally strong in this comic!).

We also spend some time with Ilyia’s friends and acquaintances, which is always good in a superhero comic. The funniest part of the book, probably, is how a loser becomes almost irresistible to women after his transformation. He gets up the courage to ask out Vica, although it does take a while. But he’s kind of a terrible boyfriend – he doesn’t actively push her away, but he doesn’t seem to realize how much she digs him (and did even before his transformation, although not quite as strongly). He gets a weird scar or tattoo on his chest from one of the villains, and it freaks her out, so she bolts … for now. He rescues a woman from the weird priestess in the woods, and just like the Black Cat (to extend the Spider-Man analogy a bit), she digs Apama and doesn’t know about Ilyia. She does leave him, though, because she wants to destroy the cult that kidnapped her and wants to do it on her own. Finally, Ilyia meets an artist who gets him to try improv and slightly surreal theater, and she totally digs him, too … but she’s one of the ones who gets hypnotized, so the last time we see her she’s being led away to jail with no memory of her crimes. The romances are certainly tinged with superhero angst, but the writers do a nice job with them and Ilyia’s love problems. It humanizes him a little more, which is nice.

Sikora and Miller also ground Apama as much as they can in the real world. Ilyia’s work problems feel more real than most superheroes’, because he really does have a shit job and lives in a fairly crappy apartment, and there’s really no way he can get out of it (unlike, say, Peter Parker, who had those problems only because he was a poor student). We also get commentary about society, with the “Ruster” getting created while he was working on an oil spill and vowing revenge on the company, whose presence throughout the series, in the form of desperate PR ploys, is both a running gag and a sad commentary on our current world. Ilyia is the son of immigrants (presumably, as they speak Hungarian more than English, but who knows), and that’s certainly something the writers could explore if they wanted to. The entire dichotomy between wealth and poverty runs through the book, and while the writers don’t make it too overt, it’s something that simply hovers over everything, and if they choose later to delve into it more, the raw materials are certainly there.

As I mentioned, Gallego is drawing like John Buscema a bit (this is evident from the very first page of the comic), and he does a fine job. He uses a lot of panels because there is so much story, but he can also open it up nicely, as he does early on with Ilyia’s dream about Apama, where he eschews panel borders altogether. He does a nice job showing the toll on Ilyia’s body when he fights – he does heal quickly, but he still has to explain black eyes and bruises, and Gallego draws them in all their glory. When things get weird, like with the priestess and her cult in the woods, he finds the weird places without being too obscure, and his villain – Regina – is disturbingly sexy, as she doesn’t wear a lot of clothing but has creepy tattoos on her body, and the way Gallego draws her facial expressions and twisting, sinuous body is very off-putting. Of course, the women are hot, but not to the point where it would be impossible for Ilyia to make connections with them, even if he wasn’t more confident after gaining powers. Sikora’s colors aren’t very bright, but they aren’t murky, either, and he and Gallego give us a really good idea of the Cleveland scene, from the decay to the gentrification, and it’s very well done. Gallego is good with the action, too, as he choreographs his fights well and shows the damage they do to the area. One thing the writers can do that modern writers can’t because they don’t use omniscient narration is show panels and describe a little bit of what happened in the gutters between panels. That kind of storytelling can be annoying (show, don’t tell!), but used sparingly, it’s effective. It does mean that all the storytelling isn’t on Gallego, but he is still able to move from panel-to-panel well, which means we never get lost while reading. That’s always nice!

The creators say they have a lot of Apama stories to tell, and I hope they get to do them, because it’s a pretty groovy comic. I worry that they might spread themselves too thin, because they write that they have other Apama-related comics in the pipeline than just the regular series, but I guess they’re striking while the iron is hot! These trades are quite good, though, and definitely worth your time if you have a hankering for old-fashioned superhero stories or, heck, just good superhero stories. Don’t be bound by your childhood attachment to fictional characters!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Grand Passion by James Robinson (writer), Tom Feister (artist), Dennis Calero (additional artist), Andrea Mutti (additional artist), Dave Curiel (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), Joe Rybandt (editor), and Anthony Marques (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, Dynamite.

James Robinson’s return to comics hasn’t been without controversy (see the overblown Airboy hawt taek), but it’s been a good one for the most part, as his creative juices seem to have been rejuvenated. That doesn’t mean everything he’s doing is great, but Grand Passion, for instance, is better than your average “corrupt cop” story because Robinson knows what to tweak. He begins with a feint, as we get Mabel and Steve, two bank robbers straight out of a Steve Miller song (well, okay, only one Steve Miller song – you know the one!) who end up in Illinois, where they happen to run into James “Mac” McNamara, a new cop in town, whose reception has been chilly. Steve kills Mac’s partner, Mac kills Steve, and Mabel swears revenge on Mac, but not before they both catch glimpses of the other and fall deeply, madly, and completely in love. Now, this is a ridiculous contrivance, sure, but Robinson doesn’t ask us to take it too seriously (until the very end, which I’ll get to momentarily). In a fairly riveting issue #3, Mabel has Mac completely at her mercy, but she decides to fuck him instead of kill him, and Robinson does a good job making both of them ambivalent about the whole thing – she’s sworn to kill him, he should bring her in because she’s a crook, but dang, do they both want to fuck the other! In the end, though, Robinson decides they really, really do love each other, which makes the ending a bit weaker than it could have been. Lust at first sight is common. Love at first sight is, I would argue, impossible. But for a while, Robinson does a good job selling it.

Part of the problem with the book is that Robinson can’t really make it all about Mac and Mabel. He could have, I suppose, but it would have been awfully difficult to keep the tension alive, especially because at some point they’re going to want to, you know, fuck. So while Mabel gets the upper hand at the end of issue #2 and we get the quite good issue #3, ultimately the story is just about small-town corruption, where Mac and Mabel find themselves on the same side against cops who want to kill both of them. When Mabel and Steve robbed the bank, they discovered something about the cops, something Mac puts together as well, and when he goes to the only person he thinks he can trust, it turns out that the person is not really trustworthy. So this becomes a shoot-’em-up, which is not a bad way to go, but even though Robinson puts his two leads in jeopardy and even doesn’t let Mabel ignore that she wants to kill Mac even after he proves her will save her life if need be, that part of the book, while entertaining, isn’t as interesting as the Mac and Mabel romance. Again, I have no idea how Robinson could make the entire comic about them, but I would have liked to see more of their moral dilemmas rather than just turning it into a big gun fight (as well done as the gun fights in the book are).

Feister does a nice job with the art – he’s not flashy, but he has solid storytelling skills and knows how to get a lot onto the page without making it too busy. He does very good work with issue #3, which takes place largely in the dark, but Feister uses shadows very well and Curiel’s colors help highlight what we can see to make it far more erotic than we might expect. Feister also uses chunks of black very well when the cops attack Mac’s house so that the violence isn’t too graphic, but Curiel’s bursts of hot colors make it feel more violent. My only problem is with issue #5, when Calero and Mutti need to step in. Calero isn’t as good as Feister (Mutti is, though, but it seems that Calero does a few more pages), and he gets a few crucial pages that aren’t as well done as if Feister had drawn them. Why Dynamite couldn’t have delayed publication a bit to make sure Feister could draw the entire thing is beyond me, but then again, that sort of behind-the-scenes machinations always are. For the most part, the art is good, and in places, it’s really well done.

Overall, this is an entertaining but slight comic. There’s nothing too wrong with it, but it feels like there’s a better story lurking underneath the surface, if Robinson could have figured out to get at it. I’m still glad that Robinson is back in comics, and maybe he’ll continue to do entertaining stuff that has a bit more to it than Grand Passion. We shall see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monstermen and Other Scary Stories by Gary Gianni (writer/artist), Sean Konot (letterer), Todd Klein (letterer), Katii O’Brien (assistant editor), Daniel Chabon (assistant editor), and Scott Allie (editor). $19.99, 164 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.

If you’ve never seen Gary Gianni’s art before, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up, because it’s amazing. I’d only seen bits and pieces of it over the years, so I knew enough to know I wanted to get this, but it’s still a treat to see all this art collected in one place. I should warn you – the last third of the book or so is a section of prose stories written by olde-timey writers – William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and Perceval Landon – for which Gianni provides spot illustrations. They’re still very neat, but if you’re like me and don’t have much interest in late Victorian/Edwardian horror (sorry, Greg Hatcher!), those stories are less interesting than the comic ones, which Gianni wrote and drew. Still, sea monsters and gods’ hearts and monstrous hands can be fun, right?

The first section stars Gianni’s creation, that dude on the cover wearing the tuxedo and the knight’s helmet. He’s called Benedict, and his “Watson” is Lawrence St. George, a movie producer who lives in the wreck of an ocean liner that is balanced precariously, almost vertically, on the shore. Yes, it’s very weird, but everything about the stories are! Benedict goes around solving paranormal problems, taking Lawrence along for comic relief, almost, although Lawrence does prove himself useful at times. The stories range from the one about a missing movie star who holds the key to a haunted house to the one with the octopus pirates. We get a Christmas story, and we get a Yeti story. There’s a mustachioed demon, demons with no heads but faces on their torsos, and cowboy ghosts. The stories are all wryly humorous, as Benedict takes a serious but slightly jaundiced view of all these supernatural horrors, while Lawrence seems out of his element most of the time. They’re not terribly scary stories, but they are kind of creepy, and most of all, they’re fun. Gianni gives them a nice verve that makes them, perhaps less horror and more adventure with horror elements, but either way, he makes the threats weird and scary but never lets us forget that Benedict, at least, knows exactly what he’s doing and is in firm control of the situation. So while the endings of the stories aren’t that surprising, the way Gianni gets through them is always interesting.

Gianni’s art can best be described as “Wrightson-esque,” and again, if you’ve never seen it, you should check it out, because it’s a treat. His details are stellar, from the architecture of the stories – the various haunted houses, the strange ocean liner standing vertically, the Tibetan monastery – to the characters, all of whom have a distinctive and oddball look. He never skimps on anything, filling the panels with weird creatures like disembodied hands or skull-headed demons or fat flying gargoyles. His storytelling is terrific – he knows how to lead our eyes around the page very well, and he knows when to use a splash page to get across the impact of a scene (plus, his splash pages, unlike many in superhero comics these days, are packed with details). His creativity when it comes to monsters is excellent, as everything he puts on the page looks weird and eerie but also serves a purpose beyond just that. His line work is superb, too. His inking fluctuates well between delicate brush work and harsher lines, as he uses the weights well to differentiate between the kinds of material people are wearing, for instance, or even the differences between the way the creatures are presented. He uses some very clever page layouts to create some disorientation when the creatures start making things difficult for our heroes, but it’s never confusing for the readers. His hatching is painstakingly detailed, giving everything in the book a texture that fits its material, from the rock that underground temples are constructed from to the tropical wood of the cottage on Lawrence’s island. He uses negative space quite well and drops holding lines in good places, so that we get a sense of not only the buildings and characters but even the weather. Gianni’s is really stunning, and it makes his darkly comic stories work on more than just that level.

I know I’ve become more interested in art over the years, so I dig this book just for that, but Gianni does tell good stories, and the prose stories he chooses to illustrate are pretty good, too. I’m glad to have a lot of his art between two covers, and I hope I can track down more!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Spencer & Locke by David Pepose (writer), Jorge Santiago, Jr. (artist), Jasen Smith (colorist), and Colin Bell (letterer). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, Action Lab.

I thought Spencer & Locke would be a nifty comic because the set-up is clever: what happens when Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes” grows up? In Pepose’s head, we get Detective Locke, who still talks to his childhood stuffed panther, Spencer (why Pepose switched the names – the actual person in this team would be “Spencer” if he was following the template – is beyond me, although it might have something to do with John Locke’s ideas about empiricism?). Pepose then puts them through the wringer. Be warned: while this is a pretty good comic, it’s almost painfully bleak. Whether that works for you is something you’ll have to decide for yourself!

Locke is a cop who plays by his own rules – he doesn’t seem to have superiors, so the many, many laws he violates in this comic don’t seem to affect his ability to arrest the bad guys. On the first few pages, we find out that Pepose is very interested in upsetting the bucolic world of “Calvin and Hobbes” by showing us that Locke was routinely beaten by his mother and that his childhood friend, Sophie (the “Susie” analog) has been brutally murdered. Yeah, things suck in Locke’s world. Later, Sophie’s kid gets kidnapped, so Locke not only has to find the person who murdered her, he has to find the kidnapper as well, and there’s no guarantee those two people are the same. Pepose gives us analogs of the bully, Moe, and Calvin’s babysitter, Rosalyn, and his teacher, Miss Wormwood, all of whom are awful adults. Pepose does a nice job showing how Spencer is the only thing really keeping Locke sane (how sane is, of course, up for discussion), and their relationship is clever, because Pepose never forgets that Spencer isn’t real, but he also does a good job (both in the flashbacks and present day) of showing how much Spencer means to Locke. One thing we don’t get in Calvin and Hobbes (because, ultimately, it’s a charming comic strip) is that Hobbes keeps Calvin grounded and even alive, but Pepose doesn’t have to worry about that, so there are a few scenes where, without Spencer, Locke would be dead. It’s bleak, sure, but it’s also heart-rending.

Pepose doesn’t quite make the whole thing work, though, because the book is only four issues long, and the other characters aren’t as well done as Locke and Spencer. We don’t know much about Sophie, so when we start to find out about her past, it doesn’t have much impact because we’re not completely on board with what she meant to Locke. Stanley, the bully, and Ramona, the babysitter, are two characters who seem intriguing, but Pepose spends very little time with them. Locke’s childhood isn’t bucolic, as we’ve seen, and the way he deals with Stanley in othe past is horrifying, sp while it gives us insight into how he’s an effective cop, it doesn’t tell us much about Stanley and what he’s like in the present. Ramona is another evil character, and in the present she has an ability which freaks Locke out (and which I don’t want to give away), but while I’m pretty sure I know why she’s able to do what she does, Pepose doesn’t spend enough time with her to really get into her character – ultimately, she’s just evil because he needs an evil person at that point in the story. So while we get an idea of why Locke is the way he is, we don’t really get an idea why the other characters act the way they do (which would be helpful, because otherwise their awful behavior in the flashbacks is almost cartoonish, and it shouldn’t be), but how that has made them into the adults they are in the present. Like a lot of comics, this series could stand to be an issue or two longer, but economics probably argues against that. Locke does a good job investigating the crimes (a brutal job, but effective), but that leaves out the space to make the secondary characters truly interesting, so the evil in the book isn’t quite as horrific as it might otherwise be.

Santiago’s art does the job – it’s not great, but it’s good, and he tells the story well. One thing he does very well is distinguish between the flashbacks and the present day, with the flashbacks mimicking slightly Watterson’s art style so that what happens in the flashbacks is even creepier than just the events, because the style looks so innocent. Issue #3 is the highlight of the book, as Locke is drugged by the bad guys but escapes, and then he sees the world as if he were “Rocketman Reynolds,” space adventurer. Santiago gets to draw all sorts of weird creatures (who are really the evil henchmen, but Locke doesn’t know that), and he has fun with it. It’s a harrowing issue, but Santiago and Smith, whose colors are wildly lurid, help make it the right amount of bizarre, too, so that when Pepose gets to the gut-wrenching end, the reversion to the more realistic style of the art helps it have a greater impact. Much like in the original strip, Santiago shows Spencer as a stuffed animal at clever moments, leading up to a dramatic and beautiful moment in the final shoot-out. It’s a colorful book, too, as Smith keeps things from being too murky, even in the darker scenes, and he uses good, flatter colors in the flashbacks to set them apart even more from the present-day stuff. The art is a bit rough, but overall, it’s pretty good.

I don’t know if the creative team has more stories in them, but this is a pretty good story on its own. Yes, it’s a bit derivative, but it’s derivative of something that hasn’t really been mined too much before, and despite the bleakness of it all, Pepose gets to the heart of what made “Calvin and Hobbes” a good comic and runs with it. So it’s a bit more clever than you might think.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Manifest Destiny #25-30 by Chris Dingess (writer), Matthew Roberts (penciller), Tony Akins (inker), Stefano Gaudiano (inker), Owen Gieni (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Arielle Basich (assistant editor), and Sean Mackiewicz (editor). $17.94, 132 pgs, FC, Image.

Manifest Destiny continues to quietly be one of the best comics out there, as the creative team continues to do stellar work creating this strange world of the Louisiana Purchase and what Lewis and Clark really found when they explored it. After several arcs of fighting monsters, this arc has them setting up a fort to spend the winter of 1804, but of course things don’t go as planned. Early on, a fog rolls in, and then everyone starts seeing visions of what scares them the most. We can figure out fairly early on that the fog is causing the visions, but the expedition doesn’t, so one man gets killed, others believe the weird vegetable plague from earlier issues is back, two men get quarantined, and then everyone thinks something terrible is happening, from Clark believing that the Indians are attacking to Sacagawea believing her old mentor has returned from the dead (in a bonus story in issue #25, we see their not-exactly-healthy relationship). Only Lewis is unaffected, and we can even figure out why before he does, but at least he does eventually, and then he and Madame Boniface (who is affected, but overcomes it very cleverly) have to figure out to help the others, because they’re fighting each other. It’s a nice physical manifestation of cabin fever, which would affect any expedition cut off from civilization for that long, but instead of taking place mostly on the psychological level, Dingess, naturally, brings it into the physical world. Of course, Sacagawea is still pregnant, and wouldn’t now be a good time for her to go into labor? Why yes, yes it would. So there’s that. Dingess teases the next arc a bit when, at the end of issue #30, we find out something strange about the arches that the group has been finding throughout the West, so that should be fun going forward.

Roberts, Akins (sometimes with Gaudiano, but not always), and Gieni are also still doing amazing work on the book. Roberts gets to revisit the horrific creatures he’s been drawing throughout, and there are some really nice reveals as the soldiers start seeing terrible things. Like any good horror movie, Roberts and the others use blacks very well to keep things hidden until the perfect moments, so we get the full impact of what the expedition sees and why it freaks them out. When things start to spiral, Roberts tilts panels and gets rid of borders altogether to make the action more chaotic, and it works very nicely. He even gets to have some fun with a monster in issue #29, which is part of Lewis’s plan to help the soldiers. He remains superb at the landscape, as the expedition always looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere – Roberts get the isolation of the territory beautifully, so we’re always willing to believe that monsters might lurk behind every tree. It’s a superb-looking book, and that’s one reason why it works so well.

I haven’t heard for how long Dingess plans to do the book, but he and Roberts and (mostly) Akins and Gieni and even Brosseau (there are several different fonts in the book, and Brosseua does a terrific job making sure the art doesn’t get cluttered and that we can distinguish all of them) are doing a phenomenal job, and I hope they can see this through to its conclusion (they seem confident that they can, so that’s groovy). The book keeps me on the edge of my seat, which is never a bad thing!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Medisin volume 1: First Do No Harm by Jeff Dyer (writer), Mark McKeon (writer), David Brame (artist), Joaquin Pereyra (colorist), and Adam Wollet (letterer). $11.99, 66 pgs, FC, Action Lab.

Ugh, this fucking book. It has a great premise – what if a supervillain blackmailed doctors into working for him to get other supervillains back in the fray – and Dyer and McKeon do a nice job giving backstories to some of the characters. They create a bunch of interesting bad guys and give a lot of the characters appropriate moral dilemmas about working for a supervillain. The main character, Ethan Sharp, seems like the noblest one, but that’s not necessarily so. Dyer and McKeon do a good job making the doctors sympathetic (well, except for one douchebag), even though they’re done some sketchy things in the past, so we actually cheer for them to fix these abominable bad guys up and send them back to fight the heroes. And when they find out there’s a traitor on board their flying hospital, we actually want them to find out who it is, even if it’s just so they themselves don’t suffer (which they will if the supervillain doesn’t like the way they’re trying to discover the traitor). Dyer and McKeon don’t pull any punches, either – bad things happen in this book, and they do a good job making us suffer along with the characters. Brame isn’t the greatest artist, but he has a verve and energy that goes a long way, and his storytelling is sound and he gets to design a crapton of costumed heroes and villains, so I imagine that was fun.

So what’s the deal with this? Well, it’s THREE FUCKING ISSUES of the story. Yes, it costs the same as if you bought the single issues (which were 4 dollars a pop), and I’m not really that put out by not getting a small price break on a trade because I get that small publishers need all the money they can get. But THREE FUCKING ISSUES?!?!?!? The third issue ends on a cliffhanger, and maybe issue #4 leads into a longer arc, but sheesh. It just felt incredibly brief, and while it’s still a good comic, I just want to warn you about the length. That’s all. Come on, Action Lab, don’t even worry about single issues if you’re just going to do this!

It’s a fun book, though. Check it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery by Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Terry Dolan, Alan Fletcher, and Juliette Dor. 408 pgs, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Terry Jones of Monty Python fame gets the big name on the cover of this book, but it’s co-written by four others, actual professors (although of English literature, not of history, which is quite important in this book) who aided and abetted him, and it’s very well-researched. The authors make the point that Chaucer, who was awfully famous in his lifetime, simply disappears from the historical record in the summer of 1400, and it seems odd that we know about the fates of lesser-known contemporary writers but not a superstar like Chaucer. Of course, we know about people from 600 years ago largely because of luck, and perhaps written works about what happened to Chaucer disappearing is simply bad luck, but the point is not a bad one. Jones et al. do a nice job creating a world that is distant from us, because they make it real – there’s a king who angers some of his top advisors because he wants to pursue a policy of peace instead of feeding the war machine, there’s a usurper who spends his reign trying to eliminate references to the rightful king because of his guilt, there’s a shadowy power behind the throne who may have had political opponents killed. Of course, much of the book is conjecture, more than “normal” history is (where historians simply use what they have to draw conclusions; the authors here use what they have and, pointedly, what they don’t have), but it’s still compelling.

Despite the title, a lot of the book is about Richard II, who ruled England from 1377 to 1399 but only really from 1388 or so, because he only turned 21 in 1388 and wasn’t able to withstand the influence of the nobles who really ran the country before then. Richard angered the nobles in the 1390s by pursuing peace with France, with whom England had been at war for decades (Hundred Years’ War represent!!!!) and which had crippled the country, draining the coffers and depleting the population. Then as now, a great number of rich men made a lot of money out of war, and they resisted Richard and began looking around for someone to replace him. Meanwhile, the authors argue that Richard’s court was one in which literature flourished, and with that came a questioning attitude that did not necessarily please the clergy, especially Thomas Arundel, who was both Chancellor of England during Richard’s reign and the Archbishop of Canterbury before Richard exiled him. The book makes the point that prior to the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, the church had encouraged English translations of the Bible and the use of English in the church, but after the revolt and the influence of John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor who railed against the pomp and luxury of the Catholic Church, on the rebels, the backlash began. Richard managed to hold it off while he ruled, but after his deposition, Henry IV and Arundel, back as Archbishop, began to crack down more heavily on English in general and criticism of the Church in the vernacular specifically. The authors do a good job setting the stage for the kind of world Chaucer lived in during the 1390s, when the backlash was beginning but the court was still relatively free of censorship. They point out that most of what we know about Richard comes from Lancastrian propagandists living during Henry IV’s reign, when the king would have had a vested interest in making sure the rightful king was slandered. They piece clues together, but as usual with this kind of book, much of it is circumstantial.

Even more circumstantial is their examination of Chaucer’s death. They posit that Chaucer, who held jobs in Richard’s administration and therefore knew which way the political winds were blowing through the last 15 years of his life, was smart enough to leave the government during the “Appellants’ Revolt” of 1387, was not able to survive the shift back to censorship in 1399-1400, as Arundel reasserted the Church’s hegemony and orthodoxy. They look at his writings – not only The Canterbury Tales, but that plays prominently – to imagine a Chaucer who wasn’t speaking in generalities when he mocked the Church, but pointedly calling out men like Arundel. The “clues” in his writing are certainly vague, but the authors make them compelling, mainly because we can easily see metaphors and opaque references in popular culture today, so why wouldn’t Chaucer put them in his works? If nothing else, a book like this is good to remind people that writers are never writing “for the ages” – their writing reflects their times, so even if there are themes in great literature that make it vital today, the writers were still bound by their times. The book delves into the conundrum of Chaucer’s death date – no one knows when he died, and the traditional date of 25 October 1400 is sketchy at best – and how he was remembered after his death, which is also a way to get to the Lancastrian attempts to ignore his contributions to culture, as there is very little memorializing of Chaucer from the first decade of the 15th century, which is odd if he was as apolitical as modern critics think. Everything is just guesswork, of course, but it’s fun to read it, and when they’re not guessing the authors are giving us good insights into late medieval England and how artists could navigate in a world that was vastly different from ours but still has many similarities. We get a lot of plates, too, showing illuminated manuscripts (some of which have been obviously altered, making the authors’ case a bit stronger), architecture, and some of the carvings and statues that pertain to the story. It doesn’t really prove anything (and, of course, really can’t), but it does provide a better version of Richard II than Shakespeare does, and it reminds us that history isn’t quite as monolithic as we like to think. If everyone today has different opinions that can change depending on circumstances, why couldn’t people 600 years ago feel the same way?

Who Murdered Chaucer? is a good, fairly easy read, and while it may not convince you (or anyone) that Chaucer met a violent and illegal end, it’s still fascinating to read just for the way it brings the late 13th century to vivid life. Hey, artists comment on the political world in which they live! Who knew?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Dead Inside by John Arcudi (writer), Toni Fejzula (artist), André May (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer), Cardner Clark (associate editor), and Daniel Chabon (editor). $17.99, 110 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I like Jon Arcudi’s work in general, even though I haven’t read everything he’s written and he has written a few clunkers over the years, but generally, he’s a good writer. I wasn’t familiar with Fejzula’s work, but Arcudi’s name, plus the hook of the comic (a detective investigates crime inside prisons) were enough to grab me, so I picked this up. It’s all very simple and believable!

I really liked this comic, although it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise on the back of the book (which isn’t Arcudi’s fault, I know). Linda Caruso has recently been promoted to detective in the Sheriff’s Office (of Mariposa County in California, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the story), and she goes into prisons when crimes are committed there. This means, naturally, that her cases aren’t high priority, because who cares if inmates kill each other, right? She gets a weird case – a very small inmate stabbed a very large inmate to death, and then went from the cell where the murder took place to the kitchen, where he hanged himself. Open and shut! Caruso, of course, thinks it’s very strange – how did the small inmate get the jump on the large one, as it would take more than just a few jabs with the knife to kill him, why did the murderer kill himself, why doesn’t anyone at the prison want to do an autopsy? She finally manages to get an X-ray of the murderer, and she finds a bullet in his stomach. That’s certainly strange! And so Caruso is off, crime-solving like nobody’s business!

It’s not easy, of course. She is not very well respected by her bosses, who eventually put a man in charge of the investigation, seemingly only because he was grumpy that she wouldn’t let him interview a stripper. She wasn’t invited to a guard’s retirement party because they went to a strip club, which turns out to be somewhat crucial in the investigation. One of the guards whom she’s close to finds out that his gun was where the bullet came from, and he freaks out because he knows he isn’t the killer but doesn’t want to tell why. Caruso works the case well, and Arcudi does a nice job giving us clues and sprinkling in some violence so it never gets boring – although it does get a bit bleak – until she’s able to put everything together. The big problem is that it’s a bit too satisfactory an ending. Arcudi seems to want to get into the seedy underbelly of the town, but he eventually just skims the surface of it. He hints at corruption at high levels, he hints at the way the jobs of these people can suck their souls out, he’s overt about the sexism Caruso faces without really doing too much with it, and he does a nice job – in one of the best scenes in the book – at showing how women can be petty toward each other even when neither of them is to blame for the situation. Yes, it’s a crime comic, and so Arcudi keeps the focus on the crime, but it turns out to be fairly conventional, even though he keeps leading us to darker corners and then saying, “Yeah, let’s not linger here.” Overall, it’s an exciting and interesting crime story, but it’s not as clever as it feels like it could be, which is too bad.

Fejzula’s art is terrific, bringing Arcudi’s desperate people to brilliant life. His style is kind of a cross between Kelley Jones and Ian Bertram, which gives us unusually-shaped people, some far too big to be realistic (but who work within the context of the story), with a lot of thick blacks on male faces, aging them in some places and making them sinister in other places. Caruso is a curvy woman, more realistically-drawn than many of the men, but she’s also a bit shorter than most of them, so their hulking frames tower over her, making Arcudi’s comments about sexism feel more dangerous because we know these men are dangerous (although Caruso shows she can handle tough guys, they have the numbers). There’s plenty of darkness in the book, and Fejzula uses thick black chunks to express the rot seeping in, even as Caruso fights against it. There are a lot of male characters, but Fejzula does a good job making them all unique, so they’re easy to tell apart. He uses some odd “camera” angles when the book gets more violent, which is a nice touch because it makes the violence more of an aberration, jarring the characters and readers out of their comfort zone. May uses a lot of deep blues in the book, so the violent red and sickening greens stand out a bit more, and it works well. This isn’t a particularly bright book, but it’s also not murky, so we can easily see Fejzula’s crisp lines even when the scenes are darker.

While Dead Inside is the slightest bit disappointing, it’s also an entertaining and exciting comic, and the themes Arcudi brings up are easily explored in further adventures of Linda Caruso. I have no idea if Arcudi and Fejzula have more stories to create, but I would certainly like to see more of the character and the environment. We shall see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Absalom: Under a False Flag by Gordon Rennie (writer), Tiernan Trevallion (artist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $16.99, 75 pgs, BW, Rebellion/2000AD.

I dig the Harry Absalom stories that show up in 2000AD, mainly because I like police procedurals, especially when they’re crossing genres (as this one does, with fantasy/horror), the art is very nice, and Absalom himself is old and crusty, which is unusual in a protagonist (not the crusty part, but Harry is quite old). Rennie’s stories are good, as he explores the way the supernatural functions in a world where England has made a truce with Hell, and Harry’s team is tasked with making sure the creepy-crawlies don’t break the truce. So we get weird dudes taking photographs with a camera that does horrible things, a teenager trained to kill humans that unknowingly have demons inside them, and giant unpleasant spider creatures. Rennie keeps things as light as he can, as Harry’s crustiness translates into “not-giving-a-shit”-ness that makes him refreshing candid, but even his team – mostly Sangster and Hopkins, but occasionally others – remains marvelously nonchalant about the horrors happening around them. Rennie also introduces a key element to Harry’s story – his grandkids are being held hostage by the bad guys, and in this volume, he finds out where they are and begins making plans to get them back. Considering they’ve been imprisoned for years, it will be interesting to see if they’re even human anymore when we finally come across them. It’s the biggest problem with this volume (well, other than the price for the shortness of it, but that’s something you’ll have to deal with yourself) – despite the few short, actual cases, most of it is set-up, as Harry brings a few more people onto the team because he knows getting his grandkids back will be bloody work. But that’s for the next volume, so this feels a bit like a placeholder. It’s fun to read and Trevallion’s wonderfully detailed art fits the creepy vibe of the story (even someone like Hopkins, who is an attractive female, is slightly “off,” because that’s just the way Trevallion draws this strip, but she fits in very nicely), but it does feel like we’re just waiting for the big things to come. Rennie says he has one more big Harry Absalom story in him (the one where he finds his grandkids, of course), and Rebellion would be wise to repackage all three volumes (this is the second one) in one big book, because then the slowing down in this section won’t be quite as noticeable. Still, this is fun comic, which is never a bad thing.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Dark Horse Book of Horror by many, many people. $19.99, 362 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

This is a nice, hardcover compilation of four books Dark Horse put out between 2003-2006, so that’s pretty keen. Apparently Mike Mignola told them he was easing back on Hellboy for a while because the movie was coming out, but he had done a short Hellboy story and didn’t have a home for it. So they got a bunch of creators to do other stories, and put them all together! A Hellboy story anchors each collection in here, as does a prose horror story with illustrations by Gary Gianni … the same stories, in fact, that are collected in the Gary Gianni book I reviewed above! So I had already read those, plus the Hellboy stories, but there’s enough in here to make any horror aficionado happy.

There’s just not a lot to say about these stories, because they’re just good solid horror stories, some with great art, some with good art. I mean, Mike Richardson’s story that begins the collection, “Gone,” is creepy, sure, but P. Craig Russell’s elegant line work makes it just the right amount of horrific. There are humorous stories – a medium encounters ghosts in a house, but he has an ulterior motive; a dude doesn’t pay for a tattoo and macabre events result; a man is chased by ghosts through the woods and finds other people, but doesn’t react how we would expect; a guy almost dies and gets the “death touch” from a tired Grim Reaper; while Evan Dorkin’s and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden stories (which are also in every volume) are always a nice mix of humor, horror, and pathos. Paul Chadwick draws a nice Randy Stradley story about kids picking on others and what can come of it; Sean Phillips does something a bit different with his art (not too different, but just a bit) in a Mark Ricketts story about a haunted guitar and the kid who buys it; Scott Morse does a story about the Salem witches; there’s a Kelley Jones story (it’s a horror anthology, so there better be!); Roger Langridge draws a story; Ron Wimberly draws a story; Pat McEown draws a story; Guy Davis draws a Japanese fable written by Jamie S. Rich; Kurt Busiek and Keith Giffen give us a humorous take on the advent of superheroes; Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra have a very tangential Rex Mundi story in here. There’s also an interview with a medium and another one with a witch, which my cynical nature enjoyed just because of the sheer insanity of it all. But maybe you’ll like them.

I dig anthologies, so I’m naturally pre-disposed to like this, but there are quite a lot of cool creators involved, and the stories are either great or very good. Plus, it’s only 20 dollars, which is a fairly decent bargain. Look at me, looking out for you guys like that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Guardians of the Galaxy: Mother Entropy by Jim Starlin (writer), Alan Davis (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Matt Yackey (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), Caitlin O’Connell (assistant editor), and Mark D. Beazley (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I have to pity old-school comics creators a little, because the medium has kind of left them behind, and not always for the better (this ties into my discussion of Apama above). Jim Starlin has never been a great writer, but he’s always a pretty good one, and one thing he does well is tell these gigantic, ponderous, quasi-mystical, weird science fiction stories that sprawl just a little, but usually have a pretty cool through plot. Starlin tackles big ideas, and while he doesn’t often delve too deeply into those ideas, he can be counted on, usually, to provide a good skim across the surface. He does it in Mother Entropy, too, as an entity decides that this reality is ripe for, well, entropy (it’s kind of strange that the entity tells the Guardians its name, yet they never seem to get that that’s what it’s going to do until it’s too late). But Starlin’s style is no longer in vogue, as comics contain fewer words these days than they did in the 1970s (I’m not making a value judgment, just a statement of fact) and that puts a bit of a crimp on guys who like to write a lot, like Starlin (and Claremont, to name another writer who’s been a bit left behind). Plus, the lack of pages – down from 24 or so in the 1970s to 20 today – means that Starlin doesn’t even get as much space for the words he does use. There’s some funny stuff in this book – he does a pretty good job with the banter between the characters, and the times they spend in “Starlin’s Bar” on Knowhere are nice – but Mother Entropy itself is a remarkably dull villain, as she shows up, puts them through a test to see which one of them will be this reality’s Mother, picks Pip the Troll (who happened to get swept up with the others), and then Pip just goes around slowly turning everyone into plants of some sort. In the olden days, we’d get a ton of third-person narration (or its pretentious cousin, second-person narration!) explaining what was going on with Mother Entropy, and she (well, it, I suppose) would be a far more interesting villain. We’d get Pip’s perspective as he turned into Mother Entropy and how he was feeling about it. We’d get Groot’s thoughts as he becomes the final member of the team not infected by Mother Entropy. Sure, it would probably be a lot of “I am Groot!” over and over, but we’d get it, damn it! This is a perfectly fun adventure story, but I can’t help but wonder what Starlin would have done with it back in his heyday.

Similarly, the fact that Alan Davis is drawing this is puzzling. Did Davis ask to draw it? Did he and Starlin pitch this to Marvel, or did Marvel call them up and say, “Hey, we’d like you to do this Guardians comic for us”? Because Davis’s art is as amazing as ever, and at 61 the dude can still draw circles around most superhero artists, so I’m not entirely sure what he’s doing with himself these days? Does he not need to work that often? Because if I were Marvel or DC, I’d make sure that Davis was drawing a top-tier superhero book as often as possible, and not a strange Guardians mini-series that came out weekly. I assume Davis wanted to do this, and maybe five issues is about all he can crank out in a row these days, but that’s fine – get him on a top seller and let him do five-issue arcs and find good fill-in artists, but make sure that Davis draws the bulk of the series. The dude is one of the best pure superhero artists ever, and Mother Entropy, naturally, looks amazing.

I bought this because two old masters were working on it, and it’s inconsequential but still entertaining. It is, like most Marvel trades these days, really thin, but it’s less than the single issues, which is nice. It’s just sad that these two legends in the field aren’t getting more publicity for doing this, because it’s kind of cool to read a Starlin cosmic story drawn by Alan Davis. I mean, I think it’s cool, and that’s really all that matters.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆


It’s August, which means my kids have been back at school for almost a month (we start early here in the desert!), and it’s been very nice for me. They started ninth and seventh grades this year, both in new schools, so I don’t have to drive them to school anymore like I did last year. When we moved last summer, we decided to keep them in their schools because it was their last years for both, and I drove them to and from school, which meant I put no less than 70 miles on my car on weekdays and I didn’t have a lot of time to do much else. This year, my older daughter gets the bus at 6.40 (yuck) and my younger daughter can ride her bike to school, so I’ve had a bit more time. I’m trying to post more here, because I’m probably the only one who writes here who doesn’t have a job, so the others have excuses for not posting as often as they’d like, and all I have is my own laziness. Anyway, it’s been keen not having to drive them around, and I’m not volunteering at either school this year (I wanted to take a break after volunteering so much at my younger daughter’s school the past few years), so I’ve had more time. I can actually work at getting rid of my big fat gut!

College football might have started last week – I know because the school from which I received my Master’s Degree, Portland State University, played on ESPN against BYU (and lost, but it was a lot closer than anyone expected) – but Penn State begins playing this Saturday, and I’m very excited. Despite the loss in the Rose Bowl to end the season last year, 2016 was the most exciting season in PSU football in a long time, and this year they should be even better. So that should be fun. And the Eagles start the next week, and I’m feeling pretty good about them, too.

I don’t know if anyone checked out the eclipse, but it was pretty neat. We had about 23 coverage here, and my wife bought eclipse glasses, so we checked it out. Having never seen an eclipse before, I was surprised by how light it stayed even when that much of the sun was covered up. As in, it didn’t get dark at all. The sun: More powerful than you think! I actually felt bad for the Buffoon-in-Chief because people were picking on him for looking at the sun without glasses on. I guarantee you 90% of the people who looked at the eclipse – including me – did that. Stop picking on our Cheeto-stained Overlord for something like that! Look, there are plenty of things we can criticize about 45. Mocking him for looking at the eclipse without glasses on just gives those mouth-breathers who love him a reason to say “See? You’ll pick on Hairpiece just because you’re mean!” And they’d be right. Since then, he’s pardoned Joe Arpaio, reiterated his ban on transgender soldiers, and told the very taxpayers who love him that, yeah, sorry, they’ll be paying for the border wall because – who knew? – you can’t force a sovereign nation to pay for something you want. So let Agent Orange glance at the sun. Don’t we have bigger things to pick on him for?

Anyway, I hope everyone is having a nice time with life. It’s a long weekend here in the States, the weather in Arizona is almost imperceptibly beginning to cool (“almost” being the operative word; you can barely feel it, but you still can feel it the tiniest bit!), and … well, I don’t have a third thing, but that’s just how I roll (I occasionally enter sentences in my writing without really knowing where they’re going, but it all works out in the end). I decided to revive a long-standing tradition from my weekly reviews (which probably aren’t coming back, simply because I’m buying fewer and fewer single issues every week, it seems, as I switch fully to trades) by listing the Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle). Yes, let’s take a look at all the weird shit Greg listens to while he’s tooling around in his fancy mini-van!

1. “Static” – King’s X (2001). “Hello, I didn’t mean to put my faith in you.”
2. “Cover Your Face” – Mary’s Danish (1991). “You fail in every way – ask the ones you love.”
3. “Vampire” – People in Planes (2008). “Stick ’em in a casket next to mine, then we will see who is alive.”
4. “Mamma Mia”1 – ABBA (1975). “I think you know that you won’t be away too long, you know that I’m not that strong.”
5. “Borderline” – Madonna2 (1983). “Something in the way you love me won’t let me be, I don’t want to be your prisoner so baby won’t you set me free.”
6. “Get the Funk Out” – Extreme3 (1990). “You’re all invited to the party, you know you didn’t have to come.”
7. “Ring Ring”4 – ABBA (1973). “Won’t you hear me cry and you will know that my heart is breaking.”
8. “Beyond You” – Marillion (1995). “I will stare from the window at the shapes in the rain as the space between us drives me insane.”
9. “No Secret” – Liquid Jesus (1991). “They say Jesus is knocking at the front door, why don’t you let him in?”
10. “The Bad Squire” – Chumbawamba (1988/2003). “For the ground that it all covered over hid the blood of a good murdered man.”

1 Oh my God that video. Those clothes! The Seventies were awesome, yo.

2 This is the only Madonna song I like, so it’s the only one on my iPod!

3 Extreme is wildly underrated. Mostly it’s because their biggest hit is a terrible, weirdly creepy song, but they have some kick-ass tunes.

4 Oh my God that video. The starburst guitar!!!!!! I also like how they added a sax sting (which is not on the album version of the song) but there’s no sax player in the video. Think, people, think!

I will leave you with this video, which comes from a festival in Japan. Dave Grohl brought Rick Astley, of all people, out on stage, and he and the Foo Fighters performed a jumped-up version of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” As someone whose sister ATE UP the music of Rick Astley back in the day, I absolutely loathed it, but this is a pretty awesome rendition. Dave Grohl makes everything better! (And, as always, if you’re interested in any of these books, check out the link below to buy them. Even if you’re not interested, you can still use the link and I’ll get a tiny piece of it!)


  1. toothpaste

    Greg, I’m a fan of yours, but I’m confused – you seem more fond of Spencer and Locke than Hadrian’s Wall, but Hadrian’s Wall got a higher rating? Personally I think from these reviews, as I don’t mind the bleak, I’ll go for the Calvin and Hobbes pastiche. I’m already waiting to binge on Manifest Destiny once it wraps, tho.

    As far as the superhero stuff, I have a kind of unique vantage point on that. I watched and absorbed Batman TAS as a kid, and watched Nolan’s the Dark Night waaaay too many times, but I didn’t start reading comics until the start of the New 52 in 2011 (at which point I was sobering up and looking for things to do besides get smashed). I dropped Snyder’s run pretty fast, and really haven’t liked much of superhero comics that have been coming out since I got into comics, but I got really into back issues of Batman – I’ve read a ton of it, only liked some of it, and REALLY liked a few things, but I ran out of old Batman stuff and…

    I decided I was done. Superheroes are only as good as the stories they’re told with, and there really isn’t THAT much quality stuff that has been written (compared to the volume of comics that have been written, at least); I would double down on that for modern comics. I moved on to the Hellblazer franchise and indies; I sold most of my Batman comics planning to buy them back, and just haven’t seen a reason to buy them again. So, I dove in and burned out on superheroes in about 5 years.

    As I’ve said before here, I’m a writer, and it was a dream to write legacy characters for the big two for a long time – now? Fuck that. The same editorial that gives us this crap would make my stuff crap. I don’t know where this pointless rant is going, but I’ve written a novel’s worth of Batman fanfiction and obsessively read the stuff – it’s impressive that DC and Marvel killed my enthusiasm. Good job guys.

    Also, are you going to be reading Angelic? It’s the artist from Limbo and seems cool.

    1. Greg Burgas

      toothpaste: Well, I did like Hadrian’s Wall slightly more, even though I had problems with both books. I think Hadrian’s Wall was a bit more … professional, maybe? Higgins and Reis have been at it for a while, so the book looks better than Spencer & Locke, which is done by newer talent. Plus, I like the story a little bit more in Hadrian’s Wall. But the rating isn’t that much higher! 🙂

      It took me a bit longer to burn out on superheroes like you did, but that’s probably because I didn’t binge on them quite as hard as it sounds like you did. But it happens. I still love the idea of superheroes, so when someone does something interesting with them, I appreciate it. But yeah, the Big Two superhero books are something I’ll probably never get back into with any consistency. I’d still write the X-Men, though – you’re right about the editorial interference, but I don’t care!!!!

      I’m waiting on the trade for Angelic. I’ve decided to not start new series in single issues, even though that makes me “part of the problem” because the books might never make it to trade. But I can’t worry about that!!!! Angelic does sound pretty cool, though.

  2. tomfitz1

    Ramble on man, ramble on to your heart’s content. We will endure!

    I’m not here to talk about what you read or didn’t read.
    I may check them out based on your recommendations/reviews, or not.

    What I’m here to talk about is:

    1) Is that blonde with the red sweater, Pamela Anderson? She looks miffed about something.

    2) I like the ladies in the Flintstones cosplays. Those child-bearing hips!!!! That’ll make an stone-cold corpse roll over!!!

    3) That graffiti gives new meaning of the word oxymoron when describing a three-way.
    Same for the sign in yellow.

    4) Those bouncy eyes just keeps your eyes glued in place.

    5) Is that the Imp from GoT?

    6) Love the creepy Scream gif. Just how I feel like doing most days.

    You have a good week/end, Mr. Burgas.

    PS I agree with you about Jim Starlin. I do miss him writing/drawing Dreadstar.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: Yes, that’s Pam Anderson. From Baywatch, I presume. Beats me – I just saw it somewhere on the internets and grabbed it. I do that a lot, just so I can have things to throw into posts occasionally!

      Yep, that’s Peter Dinklage. I can’t remember where that’s from, though.

      I have a few creepy gifs of famous paintings, I think (I’ll have to look). That one is the best, though.

      Have a good weekend, too, sir!

  3. frasersherman

    There was a guest post on Mighty God King a while back where the poster said even when he reads a current DC/Marvel book, he only likes it for itself, where he used to like them for being part of a universe he was emotionally attached to. I know what he means (I love Ms. Marvel but the present MU? Meh).
    I still love superheroes, but that includes rereading a lot, or filling in my collection with TPBs (which would cut into my money for new books even if were still determined to buy the latter).
    “Two guys at my comic book store, both in their forties, insist that their critical faculties were fully developed by the time they were 10 or so and could distinguish “good” pop culture from “crap” pop culture.” Yeah, right. One thing about rereading stuff is the humbling realization I didn’t have that superb taste–there’s no shortage of mediocre books in my collection that I liked at the time.

    1. M-Wolverine

      That’s a good way to put it. I still care about the characters quite a bit, but the overall universe is such a mess I really have no feelings for it anymore. Big events aren’t shocking, they’re just the next boring one. Where as before the interconnectedness (that is still a joy in the movies) is more a burden now. You used to be able to keep track of everyone’s last appearance, good or bad guy, and know where they went next. Now with computers and everything to help I don’t think the people running things even know what’s going on with everyone.

      Partly because they over expanded. No one not named Superman, Batman, or Spiderman should have more than one title. And they should only have 2. It’s a mess, and knowing I’m probably giving up what happens to them and all the stuff my mom collected for me is sad. But I keep coming back to joy, because there’s no joy in it anymore.

    2. Greg Burgas

      frashersherman: That sounds familiar; I’m pretty sure I read that post, too. I miss Mighty God King.

      Yeah, the guys at my comic book store crack me up. One’s a few years older than I am, so he’s talking about the late 1970s/early 1980s, and he’s very fun to hang out with, but he insists that he was reading only the best superhero comics from that era. I’ve given up trying to convince him otherwise!

      M-Wolverine: Yeah, I agree with you about certain characters not having more than one title. Even Spider-Man gets a bit dicey in my book (Batman and Detective ought to be more differentiated, but you can have “superhero” Batman and “detective” Batman). I’d go so far as to say that no X-Men except Wolverine should EVER have a solo title, and three of my favorite Marvel/DC characters are X-Men!

      1. M-Wolverine

        Action Comics and Superman. Detective and Batman (with the differentiation you made.) And I’m ok with Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular. (Bonus if it’s Peter Parker, the Spectacular). I liked Web of, but it was unnecessary.

        And it’s hard to believe that X-Men was the best selling title for years, and somehow managed to have none of the characters in it with their own title. Finally Wolverine came along, and that’s OK. But one title. (And he gets to be in no books other than his and X-Men).

        Actually, that may be a big thing that’s killed it. Bendis killed the comic book universe. Because the minute the Avengers became code for “characters I like writing” it had no meaning. All the teams are just names, and there is nothing distinct about them. So might as well just mix and match them all up, and give them stupid additional titles. Used to be teams were generally different. Morrison did a good job defining them: JLA was the pantheon of gods together, FF was a family, X-Men a school, Avengers basically a sports team. What the Hell are the Uncanny Avengers?! Other than a waste of time and branding.

        Even back in the day when it was exciting that there was now a WEST COAST Avengers, the teams had a very different feel to it. Tradition and East Coast vs. West Coast newness and more laid back. That was cool. 65 Justice League titles is not.

  4. M-Wolverine

    I just come for the gifs. (Though the googly eye addition is a new take that is mesmerizing.)

    Being out of the loop a bit today, and getting ready to purge Marvel as bad as I did DC in New 52, gleefully keeps me unaware of stupid stuff like the James Robinson thing (that would fit in another recent column here). I wouldn’t have read it, but I would have heard about it. And ugh. Rather have the Starlin/Davis stuff.

    Though maybe even more politically volatile is college football. And that takes on a whole other level where Penn State is concerned.

    On more like minded things, I too was a bit jealous when I saw the places that had the full eclipse and really got dark. That was cool. And I’m a little worried media overkill is going to get 45 re-elected, as they might even make him look like a bit of a victim. Because the 24/7 bashing 1. ignores and blends the trivial stuff with the really bad stuff, as you said 2. makes them look as bias as he claims and 3. is eventually going to get old for the general public and make him look downtrodden, rather than a guy doing the really dumb things now and then. CNN, which has become the 24 hour bash Trump network (thus having people eventually tune it out) actually had a scroll emphasizing that he gave a SCRIPTED speech about the tragedy or some sort of thing. A passive-aggressive dig, because all presidents don’t take a piss without script from their handlers first. Really, stop with the petty stuff that makes you look unhinged, and stick with the real issues and you’ll be more effective, media.

    On a happier note, it’s simply fact that Borderline is Madonna’s best song. And if you haven’t, see Mama Mia. It was in one of my season tickets one year so I went and was surprised, it’s actually joyful. Now, it’s about as deep as ABBA, but that’s not always a bad thing. (See the play. The movie isn’t bad, but in the play everyone can actually sing.) And I wasn’t aware anyone had actually hear of another song by Chumbawamba, no more another album.

    1. Greg Burgas

      M-Wolverine: Robinson’s Airboy is excellent. The opprobrium he got over it seemed really bizarre, because the statements on transgender people are not supposed to be something anyone should think is a good thing. We’re supposed to be pissed off by them.

      I have my own idea about the prez. I’m not sure if he’ll run again, because he doesn’t seem to like the job and he might lose. If he doesn’t run, he can claim he accomplished everything in four years what others would take eight years to do, and he’s going out on top. That’s my hope, anyway, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

      I have never had a chance to see Mamma Mia. My mom saw it in New York, but here in the desert, it doesn’t show up very often (I think it’s been here once), and with kids, I have to be selective about what I see. I’d like to see it, though.

      And are you implying that ABBA isn’t deep? Pistols at dawn, sir!

      I liked Tubthumping quite a bit, so I bought the album, which is very good. Then I bought everything they released after that, all six albums from 2000-2010, when they called it quits. Chumbawamba is a very good band, wildly leftist, of course, but they can write really good songs.

      1. M-Wolverine

        James Robinson generally does good work, it’s just not something I’d have picked up most likely. I just would have been in tune enough with comics to catch the blow back. Which has been a silly thing for awhile; even bad characters can’t say or do bad things. Because bad people being bad is offensive now too. For awhile it was only minority characters had to be without flaw (and thus mostly uninteresting, and probably really boring to play), but now even white guys can’t just be bad. Eventually everyone is going to be First Avengers Red Skull, where even Nazis can’t be Nazis. There was that big conversation on SJWs as a derogatory thing, and this is where it gets illustrated. Though, on the other hand, you see the linked side story of JLA 3000, and why is that stuff even in a mainstream comic book? And I never wanted to think about Etrigan’s dick, either.

        Sometimes people forget edgy and smart don’t mean the same thing. You can be both, but being one doesn’t automatically make you the other.

        Not to turn this site into something too political, but yeah, I’m torn on how the Don’s mindset would go. Can his ego let him walk away? Or can his ego handle losing? Though I’m not sure he really believed he was going to win the first time, and was probably caught off guard. I’m guessing you’re on the right track, but there might be some mysterious health reasons that make running again not a good idea. And I’m pretty sure his party would go with it.

        Kids makes things expensive, I know. But Mama Mia is probably a good show for the whole family. It’s fun, features some young characters (and generational things) and it opens up the music that everyone can appreciate. Maybe just rent the movie. It actually has really good actors, though things like hearing Pierce Brosnan sign are painful. (Which is OK; it’s primary audience is middle aged women, and there’s nothing wrong with some middle aged beefcake for them).

        I don’t think ABBA is particularly deep, in a good way. Somehow pop and fun things have been cast as not serious enough to be good, and there’s a lot of value in that. I think we got a great show of how much people want that sort of thing still in the success of Wonder Woman. She’s square, to be sure. But it’s admirable, not corny. And of course I’m not really giving them enough credit; they can pull your heart strings too. Winner Takes It All is probably my favorite of their songs. And I dare you to have your small child get on a bus with a back pack the first time and not hum Slipping Through My Fingers and get choked up a little. I actually connected with my future wife listening to Mama Mia albums. And the reason I was partial is I can remember by grandparents playing their music, which was about the only “modern” stuff they probably listened to.

        Tying things back in, I remember Tubthumping back in ’97, after a number of so-so football years (recently I learned that they didn’t qualify as “bad”) and the lyrics of their one hit certainly fit for a National Championship run. And yeah, they were liberal enough to tell people just to steal their album/CD. Which was real rebels, not the “don’t steal my music with Napster” crowd who built their careers off being edgy. (Not that I’m condoning stealing anybody’s work; just that there’s a difference between being an edgy rebel and just playing one on TV [in music videos]).

        1. Greg Burgas

          M-Wolverine: Hey, if I didn’t want to get political, I wouldn’t have posted anything about the president! I honestly don’t mind talking politics with anyone as long as no starts screaming (in real life) or being too insulting (on the internet). I think the president is terrible, but I’ve spoken to a few people who voted for him because they had actual concerns that they thought he’d address. I haven’t spoken to them recently about him, so I’m not sure how they feel now …

          I was just funnin’ with you about ABBA!

          Man, at least you guys got to share the National Championship. Penn State got hosed in 1994 by the same team you shared it with!!! 🙂

          1. M-Wolverine

            Actually that still pisses me off. Either Nebraska needed to share the title with Penn State, or they needed to be left out in ’97. They got the best case scenario both years. That was bullshit.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    I burnt out on superhero stories by the end of the 90s. I still dabbled; but it became very rare. My tastes in a lot of things changed. My tolerance for dumb action movie plots dropped heavily by my 30s, my desire to read fantasy fiction waned heavily. A lot of it was deciding that okay just wasn’t that good anymore and sticking with what was really good. For superheroes, it really became “I’ve read these stories before,” as the same plots just kept getting recycled. Heck, I would have probably dropped superheroes entirely, by the mid 90s, had it not been for Starman and Astro City. Those were two books that did something special with them.

    Gary Gianni’s Monstermen was one of the things I turned to as my interest in superheroes waned. The art was fantastic and it had a great pulpy style to it. It solidified what I was discovering; that when you strip down stuff like superheroes to their pulpy core, they are so much more interesting.

  6. frasersherman

    “Sometimes people forget edgy and smart don’t mean the same thing. You can be both, but being one doesn’t automatically make you the other. ”
    Yes, the assumption being edgy is an end in itself never leads to anything good.

  7. Eric van Schaik

    Yeah!! Greg likes Grand Passion and Manifest Destiny. We’re soulmates 🙂

    The dutch soccer team is likely to miss the world cup next year. Lack of quality. Maybe your team will make it if you are even interested in soccer.

    When I look at the solicitations at CBR (mostly the only reason I visit the site) there is always a tiny hope DC has something interesting. The only reason for looking at Marvel are trades of old stuff.

    I have only 4 series left as monthlys with Motor Girl ending shortly.

    Thanks to you when I think about AC DC Whole lotta Rosie won’t be the first thing that comes to my mind.

    Hopefully none of you live in the disaster area. I read somewhere Trump is going to donate $ 1.000.000. If thats true that’s a nice gesture.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: You have good taste in comics, sir!

      You’re kidding about the Dutch team, right? Aren’t they one of the top teams in the world? Don’t they make the WC just by waking up in the morning? I’m not being facetious, I really did think they were that good. That would be very weird if they don’t make it. The U.S. has already qualified, I think, or they’re close enough that it doesn’t matter too much. I like them, naturally, but when they get dumped (which is far too early every time), I cheer for the Germans. After that, I’m just rooting against teams like Brazil and Argentina.

      I don’t live anywhere near the hurricane – Arizona doesn’t have extreme weather unless you count the heat (well, we’re running out of water, but that won’t hit us all at once), so we’re usually spared those kinds of things. It’s a bizarre scene. I will also not believe that about the president until I see suitcases full of cash arriving in Texas!

      1. Eric van Schaik

        Hi Greg, not kidding about the Dutch team. We already missed the last European Championship last year. If we lose to Bulgaria it’s over, otherwise there is just a small mathematical chance. If you’re team beat Honduras they will be save I guess.

        Nice to see that you live in a safer area.

        Did you check Secret Wars 2? I looked at promo art and saw an image of Doctor Zero (of the Shadowline Saga, a comic that’s in your collection I hope?). Did he appear in the serie. I’m just curious about it.

        Funny that, apart from ABBA and Madonna I’m not familiar with the rest.
        If you’re wandering my, recent top 11 in random order:

        1 Metronomy – Love letters
        2 Queens of the Stone Age – Fortress (fom the new album) / see them here in November
        3 Tame Impala – Let it happen
        4 Temples – Move with the season (beyond the wizard sleeve re-imagination)
        5 Millionaire – Wastelands / also see them in November, the day before QOTSA
        6 PJ Harvey – The wheel
        7 Kiss – 100.000 years live from alive / a classic to me, still gives me goosebumps
        8 Plaid – Do matter
        9 Depeche Mode – Halo
        10 Plaid – Eyen / mailed to the radio station to ask who were performing
        11 Franky Vally – Beggin’ / not the BS new version

        Maybe there’s something you like, if not that okay 😉

  8. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Fly Eagles Fly!

    I haven’t burned out on superhero stories…but I’m both young and someone who has followed creative teams rather than characters since I was in my early teens.

    When I read Year One and DKR my reaction wasn’t “I need to read more Batman stories!” It was “I need to read more Frank Miller stories,” which led me to Born Again.

    Hawkeye led me to Immortal Iron Fist, FF and Casanova, not West Coast Avengers.

    1. M-Wolverine

      It’s a different era. Back in the day you knew who the writers and artists were, and just starting to get excited when they took over a title, but people followed characters through different writers, artists, fill ins.

      Of course, for a lot, everyone was just Stan Lee.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Carlos: Yay, Eagles!

      I’m burned out on superhero stories because they never really change all that much, and I’ve been reading long enough to come back around on several stories. That’s why I appreciate when someone does a superhero story outside of the Big Two, because there’s the possibility that something different might happen, as they’re not simply intellectual properties. When they’re IPs, they can’t change that much, and the stories get boring, no matter who’s working on them. 🙁

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        That’s fair. If I had to name a favorite superhero story, it would probably be Preacher (Jesse has superpowers, wears an outfit all the time, travels the country fighting evil).

        But, I’m also someone who has thoroughly enjoyed the horror story Nick Spencer has told in the pages of Captain America over the last few years, even as I think it’s stupid that Jason Aaron apparently thinks “Thor” is a title (and no, it doesn’t stop being stupid because he’s now calling Volstagg “The War Thor.” It’s just stupid.)

        I will say that the best example of longform superhero storytelling within the context of Big Two IP I can think of is the evolution of Cyclops from Morrison to Whedon to Ellis to Fraction on through to Gillen (hell, even Bendis made a valiant attempt to resuscitate that characterization after AvX!). That longform storytelling, constructed over a decade of stories, across several different writers, was damn special.

        And, of course, Marvel decided to throw it away.

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